Home » Uncategorized » Poor old Michael Finnegan…

Poor old Michael Finnegan…


…Begin again.

Hi, how have you been? I promise to come around more.

This will be a big year. Big year = big post.

I’m returning to 4th grade, after two years in 5th. I’ve taught 4th for eight out of eleven years, so the transition shouldn’t be too hard. Unless I make it hard. Which I’m going to. On purpose. More in a second.

We’re moving into a new school. After winter break. Some construction delays made it so finishing in time for the beginning of the year was impossible. So it goes. I’m excited to be in a new space. Moving mid-year isn’t ideal, but…new school! Ya!

Our two wonderful principals, stolen two years ago from other schools and districts, were stolen back at the end of the year. So now we have two new wonderful principals. I feel confident that they will be wonderful. I also feel confident that they are new.

Plenty of change. Plenty to do. Plenty to think about. And so I went ahead and threw in some more.

For seven years, I struggled to make my way at my school. I was missing two things that I think a new teacher desperately needs: A professional learning community and innovation. It wasn’t that my colleagues were not helpful–they would help me with anything I asked. It wasn’t that my colleagues didn’t believe in what they were doing–they just were not very interested in trying something new.

So I struggled. And after about seven years, I finally felt like I had a handle on what I was doing. Great, right? Sure, except what I really had a handle on was what everyone else was doing. I felt little ownership.

For a couple of years I went through the motions generally stress-free. I finally had things figured out! Sometimes they weren’t that exciting–for me or my students–but at least I knew what I was doing.

And then I joined Twitter.

I started out by following the people who were truly in my heart–children’s authors. Since my third year, the one thing I was doing that I truly believed in was my Guys Read book club.  So, it was natural to pursue those who I felt most comfortable with. The first author I followed was Sharon Creech.

Then I started following teachers and librarians who were following (and were followed by) those authors. You know who they are–John Schumacher, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, Katherine Sokolowski.

Then my world exploded.

Because all of a sudden I had a PLC. I had access to people who were motivated and enthusiastic about growth and innovation. They didn’t know me, but they changed my life.

I started reading professional books again, something I hadn’t done since college. I started pushing back against things I always knew, deep down, were not best practices–AR, Open Court, contrived writing programs.

Suddenly I had the support system I never had. Which gave me the confidence to change the way I teach.

Which brings me to today. The first day of my twelfth year of teaching. The year when I start over.

I am abandoning Open Court. I am ignoring AR. I am lining up my teaching with my heart and with my mind. I’m going all in with Reading and Writing Workshop.

It’s convenient that my district is in the process of adopting new literacy “curriculum.” It makes it so other teachers look at my changes with less raised eyebrows. I am on the adoption team. So I get to be a “pilot.” But I have no intention of ever going back to teaching that is about following a book instead of following the needs of students.

So here I go. To help me, I read the entire huge, thick Fountas and Pinnell book, Guiding Readers and Writers. One of the perks of being in mid-curriculum adoption is that I have Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study for both Reading and Common Core Writing. My district also held a Summer Institute on Balanced Literacy. I’ve learned a lot in the last two months. I feel a little less stress having something to guide me. But I’m still nervous. A little scared. A lot excited.

It won’t be easy. We have no book room, no leveled sets for guided reading. We have plenty of books for literature study, but few of them are nonfiction, and almost none are recently published (the exception is books I’ve pushed for purchase for my Guys Read club). And, of course, I have no other colleagues trying this with me. But I have Twitter. I have #nerdybookclub. I have a PLC, they’re just not at my school.

I built benches for my classroom. I’m not even handy! Eleven years of teaching upper elementary and for the first time I have a dedicated meeting area. I never thought it was necessary, before. I never knew how important it was. Now I know better.

Eleven years of teaching upper elementary and I finally have enough knowledge in my head, and confidence in my being, to be able to teach literacy from my heart.

I’ll keep you posted.

Starting over feels so, SO good.


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